From Publishers Weekly
The death of the title refers to a recent event, but Times Literary Supplement
writer Robb gets his mysterious subtitle most directly from Machado de Assis, a 19th-century Brazilian novelist considered at length for his ability to weave discussion of the nation's racial and economic disparities into his wildly popular serial fictions for women's magazines. The term's origins, however, are biblical; First and Second Chronicles were called "Omissions" because they contained information left out of the preceding Books of Kings. Although Robb tries to fill in some of the gaps in recent Brazilian history, he doesn't so much uncover new data on the spectacularly corrupt 1990â"1992 presidency of Fernando Collor as pull together some of the many disparate sources. Collor's rise and fall, and the murder of his chief henchman, form a solid backbone for the book, but one from which Robb frequently wanders to ruminate on centuries of Brazilian history filled with eroticism and violent upheaval. He also recounts his own travels through modern Brazil, devoting as much attention to the sensual delights of buchada de bode
(stuffed goat's stomach) as he does to a threatening encounter with the military police. The overall result is a bit of a jumble, but it's a delightful jumble: a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
with a Latin beat. At various points, Robb compares the unfolding Collor scandal to the soap opera staples of Brazilian television, and he's managed to capture the story's lurid surrealism with a deft, erudite touch.
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One night twenty years ago in Rio de Janeiro, the author was attacked by a knife-wielding burglar, who then broke down and stayed until dawn, unburdening his soul. Robb became fascinated with Brazil, and here offers a seductive synthesis of history, gastronomy, literature, pop culture, and current events. He is most drawn to the landscape of the northeast. Once home to communities of escaped slaves, the region has, more recently, produced such figures as the disgraced President Fernando Collor de Mello, who was impeached in 1992, and Luis (Lula) Inácio da Silva, a former metalworker who was elected President a decade later. Between the mouthwatering dishes and caipirinhas, Robb explores the extreme contrasts of wealth and poverty, beauty and brutality—tens of thousands of violent deaths each year—in what he considers the "most thrilling country in the Western Hemisphere."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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